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UPDATE (India): More starvation deaths, more lies in Murshidabad, West Bengal

Mr. Jayram Singh, from the Pakurdiar Village, had been suffering from severe malnutrition and was in critical condition when his wife, Ms. Bisni Mal, died in late January from starvation. His son, Bhadu Singh, had been away from the home when Bisni passed away. Bhadu returned home a few days later to find his father rapidly deteriorating in health. In an attempt to get help for his father, Bhadu approached the Block Development Office (BDO) in Jalangi and the head of the village administration for some food assistance and a Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration card. However, he received no help and his father died from the lack of food three days later.

UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

Update on Hunger Alert

31 March 2006

[Re: HU-02-2006: River erosion continues to swallow lives and livelihoods in Jalangi, Murshidabad;  HU-09-2005: Government action inadequate in providing rehabilitation to displaced hunger victims and continued starvation death in Murshidabad, West Bengal; HU-07-2005: Starvation deaths continue despite government's commitment to provide food assistance in West Bengal; HU-04-2005: UNICEF still avoiding responsibility in providing assistance to starving women and children in West Bengal; HA-02-2005: Starvation deaths occurring in Murshidabad district, West Bengal]
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HU-03-2006: UPDATE (India): More starvation deaths, more lies in Murshidabad, West Bengal

INDIA: Starvation death; abject poverty; government neglect and inaction
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) regrets to inform you of two more starvation deaths that recently occurred in Jalangi, Murshidabad, West Bengal. Mr. Jayram Singh, aged 62, passed away on 15 March 2006 after a long bout of hunger. Deepali Singh, aged 8, died on 6 March 2006, also from the acute lack of food. Starvation deaths have become rampant in Jalangi, however the government continues to do little to address the hunger concerns of the villagers.

Mr. Jayram Singh, from the Pakurdiar Village, had been suffering from severe malnutrition and was in critical condition when his wife, Ms. Bisni Mal, died in late January from starvation. His son, Bhadu Singh, had been away from the home when Bisni passed away. Bhadu returned home a few days later to find his father rapidly deteriorating in health. In an attempt to get help for his father, Bhadu approached the Block Development Office (BDO) in Jalangi and the head of the village administration for some food assistance and a Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration card. However, he received no help and his father died from the lack of food three days later.

Deepali Singh, also from Pakurdiar Village, had also been suffering from malnutrition for a long period of time before her death. As per her medical report, dated 20 March 2006, she was suffering from acute anemia and hepatomegaly, an enlargement of the liver that is a common disease related to hunger, especially in children.

Meanwhile, human rights defenders continue to press on the local administration to provide assistance and long-term rehabilitation to the starving villagers who have lost their land and livelihoods to the Padma River. On 20 March 2006, members from the Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) met the Governor of West Bengal and was assured by his Secretary, Mr. D Rath, that some kind of relief would be distributed to the victims. However, due to the lack of cooperation from the district administration, nothing has been provided to the villagers. Mr. Rath also called Mr. Narayan Manjunath Prasad, District Magistrate (DM) of Murishidabad, during MASUM's visit, and questioned the DM as to why the Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration cards had not been issued to hundreds of villagers.

In addition, the Public Distribution System (PDS) in Jalangi continues to fail on every level in providing the basic food assistance of 35 kg of rice and wheat per family per month. It has been six months since a group of almost 500 people had been acknowledge as suffering from hunger and promised BPL ration cards. However, despite the efforts and pleas from victims and activists alike, no action has been taken by the local government to address any of the hunger problems, or other needs of the victims.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write to the relevant officials below, in particular the District Magistrate (DM) of Murshidabad, urging them to put direct pressure on the local administration in Jalangi to provide assistance to the starving villagers. The local administration must be condemned for allowing starvation deaths to continue, and for deliberately ignoring the needs of its community. They must further be condemned for not upholding laws put in place to protect the right to life of all Indian citizens, including the provision of jobs under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration cards under the Public Distribution System.

Suggested Letter:

Dear __________,

Re: INDIA: More starvation deaths, more lies in Murshidabad, West Bengal

Starvation Victims:
1. Mr. Jayaram Singh, 62-years-old, died on 15 March 2006
2. Miss Deepali Singh, 8-years-old, died on 6 March 2006
Location: Padkurdiar Village, Jalangi Block, Murshidabad District, West Bengal

I am deeply saddened to learn that two more villagers residing in Jalangi, Murshidabad have died of starvation in recent weeks. Mr. Jayaram Singh was only 62 when he died of starvation after suffering for months without food. His wife, Ms. Bisni Mal died in January 2006 of starvation as well. Their son, Bhadu Singh, had been looking for work outside the village, and returned home when he learned of his mother's death. It was then that Bhadu realized his father was extremely malnourished and on the verge of death. He appealed to both the Block Development Officer in Jalangi and head of the village council for food assistance and medical help for his father. However, he received no aid and Jayarm died from the lack of food shortly thereafter.

I was also informed that a young girl, Deepali Singh, also died of starvation. She was only eight years-old. Deepali's death certificate cited that she was suffering from acute anemia and hepatomegaly, an enlargement of the liver that is a common disease related to hunger in children, at the time of her death. Again, no assistance was provided to her or her family when she was ill with hunger-related diseases.

I am extremely disturbed to find that starvation deaths are continuing to occur in Jalangi still, over one year after it was brought to my attention. The local administration has failed to provide any assistance, and instead, has consistently lied and delayed taking action to ameliorate the villagers' hunger situation. How long do the villagers have to wait to receive the Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration cards they were promised back in September 2005? How many more children must suffer from night blindness? How many more people must starve to death for the government to start providing for their citizens?
 
Additionally, despite ongoing discussions to address the river erosion and money being earmarked for the project, no steps have been taken to arrest the loss of land. Furthermore, no compensation has been provided to those who have lost their homes and farms, and another permanent location for those who have been displaced has not been found. It is shameful that the local government and greater state of West Bengal will allow for people to suffer and die on their watch. Government programmes have also not been implemented in Jalangi, including poverty alleviation schemes, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) centers, Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration cards, and employment under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). The local administration is now fully aware of the problems in the area and it has become clear that their only intention is to ignore them.

I urge you, to your fullest capacity, to immediately investigate the current status of this case and take the appropriate action in Jalangi to assist the suffering villagers. This must include the proper implementation of welfare programmes (ICDS, BPL, NREGA among others) and the project to arrest the river erosion. Finally, those government officials found responsible for deliberately denying access to assistance or corruption must be investigated, and prosecuted if necessary.

Sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND LETTERS TO:

Mr. Manjunath Prasad
District Magistrate - Murshidabad
Murshidabad
West Bengal
INDIA
Fax: +91 34 8225 0145

PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

1. Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Chief Minister/ Minister of Home Department
Government of West Bengal
Writer's Building
Kolkata - 700 001
West Bengal
INDIA
Fax: +91 33 2214 5480/ 2214 1341

2. Mr. Biswanath Choudhury
Minister of Social Welfare Department
Government of West Bengal
Writer's Building
Kolkata - 700 001
West Bengal
INDIA
Fax: +91 33 2214 5452
E-mail: micjail@wb.gov.in

3. Mr. Naren Dey
Minister of Food and Supply
Government of West Bengal
Writers Buildings
Kolkata - 700001
West Bengal
INDIA

4. Justice Shyamal Kumar Sen
Chairperson
West Bengal Human Rights Commission
Bhabani Bhavan, Alipore
Kolkata - 700027
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 4797259 / 5558866
Fax: +91 33 4799633
Email: wbhrc@cal3.vsnl.net.in
5. Justice A. S. Anand
Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission of India
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg
New Delhi-110001
INDIA
Tel: +91 11 2307 4448
Fax: +91 11 2334 0016
E-mail: chairnhrc@nic.in
6. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066, OHCHR, Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
SWITZERLAND
Tel: +41 22 917 9300
Fax: +41 22 9179010
Email: sect.hchr@unog.ch 

7. Mr. Gian Pietro Bordignon
Country Director
World Food Programme
2 Poorvi Marg, Vasant Vihar,
New Delhi - 110057
INDIA
Tel: +91 11 2615 0001
Fax: +91 11 2615 0019

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme -- Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (www.ahrchk.net)

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